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Sepsis is a serious medical condition that can result in organ damage or death. It happens when the body’s immune system has a severe response to an infection. Sepsis is a medical emergency. It needs to be treated right away.
Bacteria, viruses, and fungi can invade your body and cause disease. When your body senses one of these, the immune system responds. Your body releases certain chemicals into the blood that can help fight infection.
In some cases, the body has an abnormal and severe response to infection. This can cause inflammation around the body and damage your body’s cells. Blood clots may start to form all over the body. Some blood vessels may start to leak. Blood flow and blood pressure may start to drop. This harms the body’s organs by stopping oxygen and nutrients from reaching them. If this process isn’t stopped, organs in the body can stop working. This can lead to death.
Sepsis can be called different things according to how severe it is. Systemic inflammatory response syndrome (SIRS) is the mildest form. Sepsis, severe sepsis, and septic shock are more severe forms.
Sepsis is a common cause of death in hospital intensive care units. It can affect people of all ages, but children and older adults are at highest risk.
Sepsis never happens on its own. It always starts with an infection somewhere in your body, such as:
Bacteria often cause these infections. Viruses, parasites, and fungi can also cause them and lead to sepsis. In some cases, the bacteria enter the body through a medical device such as a blood vessel catheter. An infection that spreads around the body through the bloodstream is more likely to cause sepsis. An infection in just one part of the body is less likely to lead to sepsis.
Sepsis is sometimes called blood poisoning, but this is misleading. Sepsis isn’t caused by poison.
Some health problems that impair your ability to fight infection can raise your risk for sepsis, such as:
Symptoms and signs of sepsis can include:
The symptoms may vary depending on the severity of the sepsis. These symptoms may be mild at first and then quickly get worse.
To diagnose sepsis, a doctor will ask about your medical history and your symptoms. He or she will do a physical exam. Some of the symptoms of early sepsis are the same as other medical conditions. This can make sepsis hard to diagnose in its early stages. An exam of the heart, lungs, and abdomen are needed to help diagnose sepsis.
You may also have tests, such as:
A doctor will often diagnose SIRS in a person with certain signs. These include an abnormal body temperature, rapid heart and breathing rate, and abnormal white count but no known source of infection. A doctor can make an official diagnosis of sepsis when these symptoms are present and there is a clear source of infection. These problems plus low blood pressure or low blood flow to one or more organs is severe sepsis. And septic shock is when severe sepsis continues even with very active treatment.
Treatment is often done in a hospital’s intensive care unit (ICU). This is because sepsis needs very active care. Vital signs such as heart rate will be constantly watched. Blood and urine tests will be done often. Your condition will be watched and your treatment adjusted as often as needed.
The source of the sepsis must be treated. To do this, your doctor will likely use medications. The first treatment may be an antibiotic that works on many types of bacteria. When the exact type of bacteria is known, a different medication may be given. Pockets of infection may need to be drained. These are called abscesses. In some cases, an infected part of the body may need to be removed with surgery.
A person with sepsis will also need other types of treatments to help support the body, such as:
Most people with mild sepsis do recover. But even with intense treatment, some people die from sepsis. Up to half of all people with severe sepsis will die from it.
Many people survive sepsis without any lasting problems. Other people may have serious problems from sepsis, such as organ damage. Some of possible complications of sepsis include:
Call or see a doctor right away if you or someone else has symptoms of sepsis. Early diagnosis and treatment can help improve the chances of a good recovery.
Sepsis is a serious medical condition that can result in organ damage or death. It happens when the body’s immune system has a severe response to an infection.
Tips to help you get the most from a visit to your health care provider:
Bayhealth is Southern Delaware’s healthcare leader with hospitals in Dover and in Milford. Bayhealth provides a wide range of medical services, including cardiovascular, cancer, orthopaedics and rehabilitation, pediatrics, respiratory care, sleep care, surgical weight loss and women’s services.